Q&A with author Maryanne O’Hara


As the year closes, I’ve found myself spending a lot of time talking with other writers about process. It seems that many of my peers are involved in first drafts the way that I am, and no matter how many books one has under her pen, it is always like starting over.

One of my favorite writers, Maryanne O’Hara, was kind enough to answer some questions for me on her process, her reading recommendations, and her advice for about-to-be-published novelists. I enjoyed this interview very much, especially because there is comfort in hearing respected writers discuss the struggles and challenges of the work. I hope you enjoy it, too.

  1. From suffocating small-town life, to anti-Semitism, to unrealized ambition, you tackle many challenging themes in CASCADE, yet the novel never feels overburdened. Did you plan all of the plot lines before you began the first draft, or did the issues arise during the writing process? 

Oh, I wish I could plan out all my plotlines ahead of time! But until I develop the characters, until I discover who they are and what they want, I am feeling my way around in the dark. Once I see them, and have a (very) rough draft going, I begin to try to map out the story arcs, which is scary yet fun, and really makes me focus on what the heck I’m trying to do. I like stories that have a lot of layers; trying to weave them into a coherent and compelling narrative is a challenge I enjoy.

  1. Do you read a lot of fiction, or do you try to avoid it when writing your own? Who are some of your favorite writers?

I must say that when I am actively writing, I really cannot read anything less than stellar prose. I grew up loving the short stories of John Cheever, Alice Munro, and William Trevor, and so I often will read an “old-friend” favorite passage to get myself in the mood to write. I have so many favorite books that it is hard to choose, but I can say that for 2014 I would particularly recommend EUPHORIA, by my dear friend Lily King, which was just named one of the New York Times 5 best fiction titles of the year. Lily is incapable of writing anything but beautiful, wise prose, and she’s been a longtime inspiration to me. She has an amazing work ethic, much like yours, Erika! Another recent book that I deeply admired was WE ARE CALLED TO RISE, by Laura McBride. The kind of book that made me happy to be alive. Oh, and I loved NORAH WEBSTER, by one of my all-time favorite writers, Colm Toibin. Who just happened to grow up in Wexford, Ireland, where my husband grew up…

  1. CASCADE was the Boston Globe’s inaugural Book Club selection. Do you meet with book clubs in person or on Skype? What has surprised you about meeting with book clubs? 

The Boston Globe Book Club was a wonderful surprise, a much-appreciated honor. The Globe hosted meet-ups throughout the summer and I was able to meet with so many new readers, which is my favorite part of publishing. I do indeed visit book clubs—in person when I can, and via Skype, which allows me to connect with readers far from home. One memorable Skype meetup involved the book club putting its computer on a lazy Susan, and spinning it around so I could talk to everyone.

The most surprising thing about meeting with book clubs? Contrary to all the talk about book clubs being an excuse for people to drink wine and chat, I have found that most clubs are very dear to their members. Thank God the world still is full of interesting people who love to discuss books!

  1. Can you reveal anything about your current work in progress?

It’s a book about storytelling and the elusive nature of memory. I’m still in the “figuring it out” stage.

  1. What advice do you have for a writer preparing for publication of his/her first novel?

First off, I would say congratulations, and do try to enjoy it! I recently looked back at my journal entries around the time I was finishing CASCADE and they were somber, realistic, anxious. I knew how hard it would be to secure an agent and publish a book. There’s a lot of elation when you get that contract, and a whole new set of emotional ups and downs. Research all the ways you can help yourself sell that book. And then, no matter how well or poorly things go after the launch, try to hold onto why you write in the first place, and keep writing.


Good advice! Thank you, Maryanne.

Book Clubs: Feel free to contact Maryanne to Skype!

Writers, did anything resonate with you? Are you a plotter or a “pantser”? What fabulous fiction would you recommend reading while writing? 

Celebs Read Mean Tweets (or Authors Write Mean Reviews)


“Robuck has all the syntax of a three-legged cow.” ~Snarky Reader, Online Review Site

Every so often, I pour myself a glass of wine and enact the virtual self-cutting that is reading online reviews of my work. When I self-published my first book in 2009, the negative reader reviews used to wound me. They hurt my feelings. I obsessed over them. Five years later, I am a bit more hardened, but I have to be in a certain light and ironic frame of mind to read them. If I am gloomy, it is not a good idea to patrol the one and two-star reviews.

Last week, however, the above line from a one-star review made me laugh out loud. It was a good and memorable insult. While I do not agree with it, I appreciate the humor and general savagery because I have to confess something: I would rather a nasty one-star review with zingers like this to a recent three-star review that said, “Meh.”


Years of research, travel, lost sleep, agonizing, imaging, theorizing, writing, rewriting, and rewriting earned me a “meh.”

Please, readers, if the book does not move you to a positive or negative passion of some kind, do not review it.

But back to my snarky friend, I have seen some authors recently reading mean reviews in the style of Jimmy Kimmel’s popular “Celebs Read Mean Tweets” feature, and thought it would be fun to have a laugh over some particularly bad review stories.

So writers, if you are feeling up to it (play “The Eye of the Tiger” if you need to get pumped), please tell me your funny one-star reviews. Even if these criticisms make us giggle, they burrow somewhere in the brain stem to torture us when we sit down to write. Perhaps if we put them on paper, we can release them from our consciousness and have a laugh together.


Eight Ways to Make Time for Writing


My new novel FALLEN BEAUTY launched on Tuesday, and I have been overwhelmed with kind words and encouragement. It is a special thing to release a book, and I am blessed to have a network of family and friends who support me in my endeavors.

Inevitably, I get asked a question at launch time, at book clubs, on the sidelines of the hockey rink, and on social media: How Do You Do It All? Sometimes it is asked nicely, other times with suspicion, but it is always asked.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that question, and I want to qualify everything I’m about to say with the fact that I feel like I’m a mess–a Tazmanian-devil, swirling, hyper, scatterbrained mess. My house is often untidy. I’m forgetful. Sometimes I do things like throw my cell phone in the laundry basket to take downstairs, and instead of plugging it into the wall, I toss it in the washing machine and dryer with the clothes.

But that is not the answer people want to hear. They literally want to know how I balance writing and family life, with a husband and three children. As many of you know, there is no such thing as perfect balance. Sometimes I neglect my writing, other times, I neglect life. I try to alternate that time so that over time, something like balance is achieved. I also have learned how to save time, and my list below shows eight ways I save time and allot it for writing, so that I can stay on track with deadlines.

  • I don’t go to the gym. I have a 10 minute nightly routine I do before I go to bed.
  • I only watch TV I’ve DVRd while folding laundry. (Downton Abbey or Dancing with the Stars.)
  • I don’t take on classroom parent/PTA positions. (This is an area that I struggle with and feel judged about at times.)
  • I limit lunches out of the house.
  • I write 1000-2000 words a day. (Or revise 1000-2000 words a day.) If an average novel is around 90,000 words, you can see how a book can be written fairly quickly if there is enough discipline to write in 1000 word intervals.
  • I research the next book while writing the current.
  • I combine book tour travels with research trips.
  • I work at night. (Insomnia is a family curse. I have learned how to use it to my advantage.)

The bottom line is that this is a job. I happen to love my job, but it still requires discipline and a schedule. These tips might not be right for everyone, and I am certainly not saying they are how one should make time. Some of these sacrifices feel like sacrifices, but I have to make priorities that work for me.

Are any of these tips helpful to you? I would love to hear your suggestions for making time for writing.

**Photo Courtesy of BreakFreePhotography at DeviantArt.com

Count Down to Book Launch…


My new novel, CALL ME ZELDA, will be published on May 7th by NAL/Penguin. It begins in Baltimore in 1932 when Zelda Fitzgerald checks into the Phipps Clinic at Johns Hopkins, and takes place during the aftermath of the Fitzgerald party years. Through Zelda’s relationship with a fictional psychiatric nurse, the book explores the meaning of friendship, love, and how we heal from emotional injury.

CALL ME ZELDA is a book that I’ve held close to my heart for a long time, inspired by my fascination with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and by the nurses I’ve known in my life (grandmother, mother-in-law, aunt, sister-in-law, friends…), who give so much of themselves to their patients. It also comes from my compassion for those who suffer mental illness and post-traumatic stress disorder, the ways they are often misunderstood, and the pain of the family members caring for them.

It is the first novel I’ve written in the first person point of view, and as a writer, that takes one very deeply into the heart and mind of the characters, for better or worse. There is an intimacy, an immediacy to first person, and this novel marks my maiden voyage of many, I think, into this point of view.

There are links on my website to pre-order CALL ME ZELDA, if you are so inclined. If you read the book and enjoy it, I invite you to post a review at your favorite online book site. My website also has listings of my upcoming book tour and festival appearances. I hope to see you on the road!



2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 10,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 17 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Book Trailer in Key West

You must be forewarned: this is going to be a gushing, exclamation point filled post, but that is what a moving experience it was for me in Key West last week, filming the book trailer for HEMINGWAY’S GIRL.

I must start by publicly acknowledging God and the huge blessings he pours over me on a daily basis, and my family for taking such good care of my boys while I was away. I also need to thank my publisher, NAL/Penguin, for producing this book trailer, and the incredible husband and wife team, David and Kathryn Seay, for their enthusiasm, kindness, and professionalism. They made me feel so comfortable from our first greeting, and put me entirely at ease.

When my husband and I arrived at The Pier House Resort in Key West–travel-weary and soaked from the rain–we were greeted by a surprise that left us speechless. The Pier House’s Catherine Smiley sent us to The Hemingway Suite overlooking the Gulf, and even had fruit and refreshments waiting for us!   We were able to use the gorgeous balcony for sunset and water footage. I am overwhelmed by the generosity and hospitality of The Pier House.

When we arrived at the Hemingway House on Thursday morning, Dave Gonzales, the events coordinator, graciously allowed us to film all throughout the house and grounds, but most importantly, in Hemingway’s Writing Studio.

I’ve only ever seen the studio from the other side of a locked gate. I don’t have to tell you what it meant to me to walk into the writing space where Hemingway typed the ending of A FAREWELL TO ARMS, GREEN HILLS OF AFRICA, and countless other stories. I was able to sit at his writing desk with his writing materials, and I am still trying to process the experience.

The trailer for HEMINGWAY’S GIRL will be ready later this summer, and I can’t wait to see it and share it with all of you. David and Kathryn were lovely to work with, and Dave Gonzales, the tour guides, and staff of the Hemingway House and bookstore were so welcoming. I can’t wait to see them when I return.

Last, but not least, I want to thank those of you who cheered me along the way. I am overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of my family and friends (online and off) who continuously support me throughout this process.

I’m glowing with gratitude.

Interview: Kristina McMorris on Launching Your Book

Kristina McMorris is one of my favorite authors and is also one of the most generous writers I know. Her novels LETTERS FROM HOME and BRIDGE OF SCARLET LEAVES have earned her much critical acclaim and thousands of loyal readers. Her advice and encouragement have helped me immeasurably through my forthcoming book launch, so I asked her to stop by and share her wisdom with others. Whether you are a new writer or a veteran, McMorris’ insights will inspire you.

Q: BRIDGE OF SCARLET LEAVES was published in February with many excellent reviews. How has this release differed from the release of your first novel, LETTERS FROM HOME?

It’s definitely been a nice advantage, knowing more of what to expect this time around. I suppose you could say it’s much like preparing your very first Thanksgiving dinner. The first time can be overwhelming as you try to multi-task and experiment with recipes you’ve tasted but never cooked yourself, yet upon completion comes an incredible sense of accomplishment; then the next Thanksgiving, though the milestone isn’t at remarkable, you understand what works and what doesn’t, and where you should place your greatest focus.  (Hmm…I’m suddenly craving candied yams and creamed corn casserole!)


Q: Now that you are a seasoned publishing veteran, is there anything you would have done differently with the launch of the first book?

Ack, that description makes me feel so old. Ha! Looking back, I think I would have spread out some of my promotional efforts, rather than cramming so much into the first few weeks of the release; and what I mean by that is determining which events and activities could have waited a week or a month or more. With LETTERS FROM HOME, both my US and UK launch happened simultaneously, so I should have taken this into consideration when I agreed to do three blog visits per day, for example, or to guest speak at a teacher friend’s high school English class—a great experience, mind you, but probably not so pressing that I needed to squeeze it into that first month, when sleep hours were nearly nonexistent.


Q: What is the single most important piece of advice you’d give to debut authors as they prepare to launch their novels?

You, alone, are your book’s best and strongest advocate. Start planning early, stay organized (an advantage for both current and future releases), get creative (so much today can be done online and on a limited budget), and don’t forget that the most important promotions you do are not as much for as to your own pub house. That’s where the buzz begins. If you’re not excited about the release, displaying clear potential for your book’s success, how can you expect anyone else to be?


Q: With the ever-changing landscape of publishing, many debut and midlist authors will have to be their own best advocates. If their publishers are unable to provide large marketing budgets, where do you recommend that authors make their biggest investments of resources?

Online promo is wonderful, particularly when it’s free—blog posts, interviews, reviews, Goodreads giveaways, etc. Speaking engagements can also be very effective in spreading word, including outreach to non-literary sites and organizations that share your target audience. For example, for LETTERS FROM HOME, I partnered with websites that promoted pen pals and the art of letter writing, and together we ran giveaways of fancy stationery baskets.

For BRIDGE OF SCARLET LEAVES, I connected with museums, universities, Asian cultural groups and historical societies. I also joined forces with other WWII authors and organized a contest in which the winning book club won a Skype party with us, plus a prize box filled with copies of our books and WWII goodies. And, of course, local media can be a great source of free promotion. Just do your best to think outside of the box, brainstorm how you can tap into an applicable already-established audience, and, most of all, don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. The worst anyone can say is no.


Q: What do you enjoy most about book promotion? Least?

As a former event planner, I absolutely love organizing large launch events—from the media pitches to invitation outreach to creative itineraries. And I absolutely love the social aspect, especially befriending fellow authors and visiting book clubs.

What I enjoy the least is the travel. As a married mother of two young boys, I hate being away too long! (Granted, by the time our kids hit their teenage years, my view on that might change drastically.)


Q: I loved your two novels so much that I can’t wait to read more. What is your next project?

I’m so thrilled you enjoyed them, Erika. I can’t wait to share more stories with you!

As for my next projects… I’m happy to report that my novella, The Christmas Collector, will be published this coming November by Kensington Books in a holiday anthology headlined by New York Times bestselling author Fern Michaels. (Very exciting!) After that, I have two more two women’s fiction novels under contract with my publisher, the first of which I’m working on right now, titled Through Memory’s Gate. I’m eager to share more details soon!

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Here is the trailer for BRIDGE OF SCARLET LEAVES:

“[Bridge of Scarlet Leaves] gracefully blossoms through swift prose and rich characters…this gripping story about two ‘brothers’ in arms and a young woman caught in between them hits all the right chords.”

Publishers Weekly

“A sweeping yet intimate novel that will please both romantics and lovers of American history.”

Kirkus Reviews